I try not to get too personal on this blog because in invading my own privacy I might wind up trashing someone else's.
But in this case I'm making an exception.
I'm in an off-and-on relationship with a woman named Julie.
For the most part it's been good, but it's beginning to get a bit, well, scary.
It all started one day when I decided to take an out-of-town train trip and called Amtrak.
Julie took my call, immediately introduced herself and told me she'd be happy to help me make my reservation.
With tact and great tenderness -- she could obviously tell that it was my first time doing this and, well, everyone is always nervous that first time, right? -- she took me through the process, asking me where I was from, where I wanted to go, when I wanted to go there, when I wanted to come back, which of the available trains did I want, taking me all the way to that climactic moment when I shared that most personal part of myself -- my credit card number -- with her.
And maybe I'm wrong, but wasn't there just the slightest catch in her voice as she thanked me and gently terminated the call?
It was something I'd always remember.
Some months later, when I wanted to take another train trip, I called Amtrak again, and who do you think took the call? Was it coincidence? Or could it be that she recognized my number from the Caller ID and rushed to take my call, elbowing aside any operators who got in her way?
In any event, when she got on the phone, she was politely all business, just as before. Well, it had to be that way, right? After all, if the other operators found out about our relationship, they'd surely turn her in to management and her Amtrak career would be derailed.
No, her tone told me, it has to be this way, and without any words we firmly established the terms of our relationship: It was good, it was fun, but ultimately we were just two freight trains passing in the night.
And then one day, after several years of freelance proofreading and editing, I was offered a full-time job, which I accepted. Unfortunately, I became so focused on this new job that I didn't do any traveling -- which of course meant that I wasn't calling Julie.
And then one day, shockingly enough, Julie called ME and left a message on my home answering machine.
It turned out she was now working for my cell phone company, and she was calling to tell me about some new offer. I didn't respond because I wasn't interested, but I was concerned: Had she lost her job with Amtrak because word of our relationship had gotten around? Also, her message about the cell phone company's offer was, well, a bit long. I couldn't help wondering whether she was going on and on in the hope that I was home and would, at some point, pick up.
Looking back on it, I feel like a cad for not calling her back, and I offer no excuses.
Then, near the end of last year, I decided to take a holiday trip out of town and again called Amtrak.
And she answered.
I instantly guessed (though I of course couldn't ask her) that she was now holding down two jobs -- Amtrak and the cell phone company. And as we talked this time she was her usual professional self, though I thought I could detect a slight edge to her voice -- an edge whose message was unmistakable: Why haven't you called?
Of course I couldn't respond to this tacit question; for all I knew, Amtrak was recording us.
And that was it until a few weeks ago, when she called me again, purportedly to tell me about another offer from the cell phone company. It was another overlong message, and though I can't be sure, I thought I detected a slight tinge of desperation.
And in the middle of this, a major personal blow:
The death of my old friend Danny Dollar.
I'm sure you've never heard of Danny, but there's probably someone just like him where you live: That voice that comes on when you dial the time-and-temperature number.
Danny came to my town when I was a kid, maybe 50 years ago. At first he was sponsored by one of the local banks -- hence the name. To promote this, the bank hired a ventriloquist to go on local TV. The dummy's name was Danny Dollar, and ever since then, and even though the bank dropped its sponsorship decades ago, my family has always called this voice Danny Dollar.
At first the phone version of Danny was a woman -- not that that should be surprising. Hasn't Peter Pan always been played by a woman? Not to mention Casper the Friendly Ghost -- and Bart Simpson.
Come to think of it, the woman who originally voiced Danny sounded a little like Julie. Her mother, maybe? I can easily imagine Julie having a mother who taught her the tricks of the trade.
Some years ago I called Danny and either got no answer or a busy signal. Others were equally concerned, to the point where the local paper finally reported that Danny had found a new sponsor.
By then Danny's voice had changed to a voice I recognized -- that of the former morning man on the local Classic FM station. (Quite a comedown -- from Sibelius to Celsius.)
Danny's new sponsor was a plumbing company. But for the past few days, when I've called, I've been getting the plumbing company's voice mail, causing me to fear for the worst.
I'll just have to face it: Danny has apparently, like so many others, fallen victim to the World Wide Web, where anyone with a smartphone can find out the time and temperature within seconds.
So I'm in mourning -- I hope the black armbands around my cell and land-line phones won't affect my reception -- while worrying that I'll come home some day soon to find that Julie has boiled a rabbit in my kitchen.
I know, I know: I brought this on myself, and I have no one but myself to blame.
But thank you for letting me share.